The Palomino Pony Runs Free (4 page)

BOOK: The Palomino Pony Runs Free
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o you want me to come up to the yard with you tonight, Georgia?” Dan put his arm around her shoulder as they wandered between the history block and the arts centre the next afternoon at school. It was Careers Day and Georgia was heading to a talk. If any other boy had done that, Georgia would have pushed them away, but Dan was one of her best friends. There
had been a bit more between them now and then and they had kissed a couple of times, but Dan knew that ponies were number one in Georgia’s life and their relationship had slipped back into a relaxed friendship again lately.

“That would be great,” said Georgia. “I’ve got a lesson with Janey at the stables this evening.” She would be grateful for the support! Normally Melanie taught her, but she was busy that evening. Georgia had been trying to put off working on her show with Lily, worried it would only highlight how nervous she was, but Melanie had booked the lesson in so Georgia was just going to have to put on a brave face.

“OK – well, meet me by the bus stop after school then.” Dan smiled warmly at Georgia, which made her feel slightly better. As long as Dan was with her, things always seemed all right. Pleased with the plan that they’d made, she headed over
to the room where her next talk was being held.

The school’s career lady was a brisk older woman who wore a high-necked blouse and glasses on the end of her nose. Consulting her notes, she gestured for Georgia to take a seat. “Hello, Georgia … Georgia…”

“Black,” Georgia finished for her. She felt nervous, but wasn’t really sure why.

“So, Georgia Black, do you have any idea what you want to do on leaving school?” the lady asked, peering at her over her glasses.

“Oh, yes.” Georgia nodded. “Have my own showing yard and bring on ponies to compete at the top.”

“Goodness me.” The woman beamed at her. “At least you know what you want to do. I used to showjump in my youth. So, are you riding at the moment?”

Georgia nodded again and told the woman
about her qualification for the Horse of the Year Show.

The careers advisor looked impressed. “Well, that’s a good start then!” she said. “You must have nerves of steel!”

Georgia smiled weakly and swallowed hard. Nothing could be further from the truth. For a brief moment, she thought about pouring her heart out to the lady, who seemed kind, but she knew that would only make her dilemma real and then she’d have to do something about it. And she
want to compete ponies … it’s just that her thoughts were so jumbled, it was difficult to know what she felt at the moment.

Instead, she tried to sound excited as the woman asked her more questions about her plans. She was getting quite good at covering up how she really felt these days.

There was no sign of anyone when Georgia and Dan got to the yard after school, but Santa was in her stable, picking quietly at a hay net. She hung her dark elegant head over the door when she saw Georgia and whickered as Lily came in to be brushed before her lesson.

“Where’s Will?” Dan asked, picking up a brush and starting to comb out Lily’s blonde hairs.

“I don’t know.” Georgia paused, scanning the yard. He was normally around. The fact Santa was in suggested that Will would probably be riding later, although hopefully not at the same time as Georgia – not after how she had ridden the last time he’d watched. Janey usually came over to train Will in the morning, when Georgia was at school. Will didn’t seem to hack out any more, not since he had overtaken Georgia on the heath; he seemed to be concentrating mainly on his jumping.

“Getting on with him better now, are you?” Dan
asked casually, concentrating on brushing out Lily’s mane.

Georgia frowned. “I suppose so, but I can’t work him out. He has these funny mood changes. Why do you ask?”

But before Dan could reply, they were interrupted by the yard gates opening.

“Georgia, hi, ready to crack on?” Janey’s raspy tones cut across the yard as she strode towards them, smartly dressed as always in a light down jacket, breeches and shiny long boots.

“Yes, sure.” Georgia had just finished tacking Lily up, her simple snaffle bridle setting off her delicate head beautifully. Georgia still caught her breath sometimes when she saw Lily, and could hardly believe that she had been loaned such an exquisite mare, who was as sweet-natured as she was beautiful! Fastening her navy skull-cap and accepting a leg up from Dan, she went to the arena
to join Janey, who was buttoning up her jacket against the slight chill.

“Right then.” Janey sent Georgia round the arena in a workmanlike walk, admiring the palomino’s fluid stride. Georgia was perched stiffly on top, her hands clenching the reins. Accustomed to Georgia’s normal free way of riding, Janey frowned. “All OK, Georgia?” she called out.

Breathing deeply, Georgia tried to smile. “Fine!” she said, as brightly as possible, trying her best to relax. Lily also sensed her stiffness and flicked an ear back, as if to ask her young mistress what was wrong.

“OK,” Janey said, obviously perplexed but pushing on with the lesson. She instructed Georgia to nudge Lily into a trot, and demonstrate the individual show that she and Melanie had been working on.

The show was designed for the judge to see
exactly how each pony could move, but without over-complicating things. Georgia had written down her floor plan and read it through every night before going to sleep, hoping it would become second nature to her. Now she trotted Lily round in a circle, imagining Janey was the judge. She crossed the diagonal. After that, was it left, or right rein? Georgia’s mind went blank. She guided Lily round on the left rein, and then panicked and sent her right, resulting in a clumsy wrong leg canter.

“Easy girl.” Steadying Lily and scratching her withers, Georgia apologized to the little mare, knowing that it was her fault, not Lily’s. Again, Janey frowned. Georgia was still perched, her mouth set in a thin line. She guided Lily back across the diagonal. This was where she needed to extend Lily’s trot, to really show off the palomino’s movement.

Rushing, Georgia urged Lily on too quickly and, confused by her aids, the little mare broke into a choppy canter instead. The rest of the show didn’t fare much better, and by the time Georgia gently halted Lily in front of Janey, her mouth was trembling and her eyes were glazed with unspilled tears. Reaching down and rubbing Lily’s neck over and over, she felt awful. Poor Lily, it wasn’t her fault.

“Georgia,” Janey began gently. “What’s the matter?”

Wiping her eyes on the back of her hand, Georgia tried to steady her voice before answering, “I’m sorry,” she said, as brightly as possible. “I think I’m just having an off day, that’s all.”

“Really?” Janey didn’t sound convinced. “Georgia, you do want to go to the Show, don’t you?”

Georgia nodded hard, trying to convince her.

“Well, OK then.” Janey had clearly decided not to push it. “Why don’t you show me a couple of canter transitions and then go and cool off in the meadow.” She patted Lily’s neck. “If you’re sure it’s just an off day?” She let the question hang in the air.

The rest of the lesson stumbled on, ending with a correct canter transition at last, but only after an uncharacteristic flurry of wrong legs, with Georgia making the same mistakes as when Will had been watching. Georgia couldn’t blame Lily one bit. She had given her the wrong aids and signals. She had ridden terribly. Lily was a sensitive mare who needed careful guidance, and knowing this, Georgia felt even worse.

Georgia thanked Janey for the lesson, who just nodded and patted Lily’s neck in response. Then Georgia let the reins fall slack as she guided the little palomino towards the bottom meadow,
ready to cool her off. Dan left his position at the side of the fence and hurried after her.

“Georgia?” Dan was more direct with his questioning than Janey had been. “You’re clearly terrified about the Horse of the Year Show, and it’s affecting your riding. Why are you putting yourself through it?” And stroking the palomino’s neck he added as an afterthought, “And Lily, for that matter?”

“It’s fine!” Georgia sounded much snappier than she meant to. “I’ll be fine. As I said to Janey, it was just an off day, that’s all. Everyone has them, even you. Or are you perfect all the time?!”

Instantly, she regretted what she had said. But how could she explain to Dan that she couldn’t not ride at the championships? Not after all the time and help Melanie had invested in Lily. There was no way she could pull out now. Plus, didn’t she want to be a successful show-pony rider
when she had finished her GCSEs? There was no way any professional would give up because of a few nerves.

“All right.” Dan let his arm fall from Lily’s neck, a look of hurt crossing his open, honest face, making Georgia feel even worse.

“Dan…” she began, not knowing what to say, but knowing she needed to apologize.

“Don’t worry, Georgia,” Dan mumbled, not looking at her. “I just remembered I said I’d help Dad move some heifers tonight.” Turning around, he started to walk back up the track towards the stables. “See you tomorrow at school.” And with that, he was gone.

Feeling terrible, Georgia circled the meadow, letting Lily cool down and gathering her own thoughts. She knew she shouldn’t have snapped at Dan like that, and promised herself she would text him as soon as she had untacked Lily. After
all, Dan was right – she was terrified about the competition. As much as she had tried to tell herself that it would be no different from any other show, she knew that wasn’t the case. But what would she regret more – pulling out now, or going as planned but having a miserable time in the run-up? Georgia wished she knew the answer…

aney’s blue Land Rover had gone by the time Georgia walked back into the yard with Lily. She had taken her time riding the circuit of the meadow, so that she could compose herself a little. The yard lights were on, casting a warm orange glow over Santa, Wilson and Callie who had been brought in for the night already. Callie gave an indignant whinny when she spotted Lily,
as if to question where she had been. Glancing at the drive behind the house, Georgia saw that there was no sign of Melanie’s car either, which was a relief. She felt sure that if anyone asked her how she was doing she would quite simply burst into tears, and then she’d have to confess everything. Then there would be no Horse of the Year Show for anyone directly connected with the stables and it would all be her fault.

However, there was a car there that Georgia didn’t instantly recognize – a sleek navy saloon – and Will was emerging from Santa’s stable, followed by a smartly dressed man. Both looked grim-faced and not in the mood for small talk, so Georgia hurried Lily into her stable and concentrated on untacking the palomino.

Will and the man were talking now in hushed, angry voices.

“But, Will, it’s just not working!”

The man was well-spoken with the same smooth accent as Will. Georgia wondered if he was a member of Will’s family, although he looked too young to be his father. Also, he was very blonde, unlike Will. The man continued, his voice growing louder. “You only just scraped the qualification, and everything’s gone downhill since then. That mare’s had her day, and so have you. We’ll be a laughing stock if you go.”

“Just give us another chance.” Will’s voice was low, pleading.

Georgia didn’t know what to do – should she stay in her stable listening or make her escape and be seen? Deciding to stay put, she placed her arms around Lily’s neck, still feeling guilty about how badly she had ridden her earlier. Lily snuffled against her, always forgiving, but swivelling her ears at the same time – obviously picking up on the tension in the yard. Georgia was just wondering
how long she was going to be stuck in Lily’s stable when she heard the sound of leather boots ringing against the cobbled yard and realised that the man must have stormed off in anger.

She hung back for another minute and then quietly let herself out of Lily’s stable, hoping to hang the tack back up and grab her bike from beside the yard gate. But, instead, Georgia walked straight into Will, who had Santa’s bridle slung over his shoulder. He looked stressed and distracted and Georgia felt incredibly awkward at having overheard his conversation.

“Um, hi Will.” She looked down and fiddled with the cheek pieces of Lily’s bridle.

“Georgia…” Will looked serious, pale and drawn. “You won’t tell Melanie about this, will you?”

“About what?” Georgia was curious now. “Was that not, um, your brother or something?” The
words died on her lips as she looked at Will, whose face had darkened.

“That’s not my brother. It’s because of my brother we’re in this mess,” he hissed, walking purposefully towards the tack room, followed by Georgia, who felt very confused.

“Look, forget it, OK?” Will waved her aside. “It’s nothing to do with anyone but me and Ryan, OK?” He jerked his head in the direction of the fast-departing blue saloon and gave a wry smile. “Honestly, Georgia, if only all I had to worry was a few nerves.” He sat down heavily on the old wooden bench in the yard. Suddenly he looked really pale and shaky.

“Will, are you OK?” Georgia asked anxiously. He didn’t look well at all – his hair clung to his damp forehead and there were dark circles under his eyes.

“I’m fine. Just forget it,” Will replied abruptly,
pulling himself up and barging out of the tack room in the direction of the house, leaving Georgia standing in the yard, trying to work out what had just happened.

Whatever it was, that man’s visit had certainly shaken Will’s confidence. Georgia sighed heavily. She wished she could help, but Will wasn’t being very forthcoming. The one thing she was certain of was that she wasn’t the only one at Redgrove covering up her true feelings.

“Ready, Georgia?” Melanie had the keys to her 4×4 in one hand, and a stainless-steel flask of coffee in the other. It was the next day and, instead of riding, Georgia and Melanie were making their way to a large out-of-town saddlery that opened late for a couple of evenings a week. Melanie had asked Will if he would mind riding out with Santa while leading Lily, since the two mares seemed to
get on so well, so that she and Georgia had time to get their shopping done for the championships. Will had agreed, but Georgia was glad it had been Melanie who had asked. He had been very subdued since their conversation the previous night and he clearly had a lot on his mind.

Georgia adored visiting the tack shop; the enticing smell of new leather and saddle soap and all the gorgeous accessories she longed to buy for Lily – sparkly brow-bands, checked woollen rugs, brightly coloured bandages – the list was endless. She had a little pocket money saved up and she and Melanie were going to get some final bits for the Horse of the Year Show – some new gloves to replace Georgia’s well-worn pair, and some travel accessories for Lily as she would be staying overnight at the championships in a temporary stable. Lily had never stayed away overnight before and Georgia hoped that she would be
OK. Melanie had assured her that horses didn’t normally mind being away from home as long as their own handlers settled them in.

The shop was quiet, with only half an hour to go until closing time, but it gave Georgia and Melanie a chance to pick up all the items they needed. While waiting at the counter to pay, Melanie looked over a small display in a glass counter, and smiled. “Here, Georgia,” she said, picking up a delicate silver tie pin with a sparkly silver horseshoe in the centre. “I think this would be the perfect thing to bring you luck. What do you think? My treat.”

Georgia examined the pin, which was really beautiful. “No, please don’t worry, Melanie,” she said, feeling put on the spot.

“I insist!” Melanie chuckled, handing the pin over to the man behind the till. “It’s not every day you get to ride at the Horse of the Year Show. Let’s
make it really special!”

As they left the shop with their small bag of items, Georgia clutched the little box containing the tie pin, her nerves rising once again. For the millionth time she wondered why she hadn’t taken the opportunity to tell Melanie how nervous she was. Perhaps the little pin would bring her luck. The way her practice sessions were going, she was going to need it!

“You’re quiet. Are you OK, Georgia?” Melanie asked, glancing at her as they drove home.

Georgia was still clutching the pin box in her hand, thinking about what the next few days would hold, and also thinking about Dan, and hoping things were OK between them. He was so easygoing and kind, which made her feel even worse about snapping at him. He had barely spoken to her at school, and had chosen to spend lunch with some of his friends from the rugby team.

“Sorry, Melanie. I’m just tired.” Georgia tried to smile, but also stretched and yawned. She really was tired. She couldn’t sleep very well and her dreams were often punctuated by disasters happening at the Horse of the Year Show, like falling off, Lily refusing to enter the ring, or worse. If only she had admitted to Dan how nervous she was, she would have been able to text him when she couldn’t sleep, but she couldn’t – not after the way she had spoken to him. That would be admitting the truth and Georgia had made up her mind that she wasn’t going to let on to anyone about how she was really feeling.

Melanie looked concerned. “I think a rest for both you and Lily after the championships will do you good, G. You’ve been working really hard,” she said. “We can turn her out for a month, let her have a breather, and bring her slowly back into work after Christmas. What do you think?”

Georgia nodded. That sounded great actually. She could just go up and groom her little mare, take her on walks. In fact, it sounded like heaven!

Melanie smiled, her eyes brightening as she continued cheerfully, “Isn’t it exciting? Off to the Horse of the Year Show in a few days!”

The thought of
the Show had made Georgia feel a whole lot better, but Melanie’s enthusiasm for the big day brought her crashing back down to the ground with a bump.

The 4×4 wended its way towards home. As they turned off the main road a couple of miles from Redgrove, Melanie suddenly pointed to a small house that lay back from the junction. Georgia didn’t go on this route much, as it wasn’t on the way to school, or the way the bus into town went, so she only vaguely recognised where she was.

“That’s where Will and his brother used to live.” Melanie gestured towards the house. “A few years
ago now. I can’t believe they still haven’t sold the place. Mind you, it’s a bit overgrown.”

It was a pretty, if slightly worn-looking cottage with a small paddock adjoining it and some tumbledown farm buildings situated further back. A “For Sale” sign stood in the garden, but the house looked completely deserted.

“Oh?” Georgia’s interest was roused. “Why did they move?” She thought the cottage looked really sweet, and had always longed for a paddock right next to her house. But it looked a million miles away from Will’s current world, with his brother’s fancy yard, horse walker and sponsored horsebox.

“Well, it was a while ago now,” Melanie explained. “Jasper’s a lot older than you and Will, remember. Jasper was the star member of the Round Barrow Pony Club. He was Janey’s favourite, but then he got noticed by this sponsor
and they moved, and he set up in his own yard, from what I gather. I guess Will just followed in his footsteps as well. He always hero-worshipped Jasper. His mum – I was never sure where his father lived – moved to London when they got their deal – something to do with her work. She was never horsey. It was all driven by Jasper.” Melanie slowed the car right down, allowing Georgia to gaze up a bumpy drive towards the cottage. “Jasper is Will’s guardian, but it can’t be easy for Will, having such a well-known older brother to live up to. He was always so good with the young ponies, I remember,” Melanie mused out loud.

From what Georgia knew of Will, she couldn’t imagine him and Santa living here; it was so different from their big flashy yard, which he had shown her countless photos of on his mobile phone.

Georgia realised that it would be a dream come true to live in a little cottage with her mum, with Lily in a paddock next door! Smiling sadly to herself, she thought that maybe she wasn’t cut out to be a big show rider with her own yard, after all!

BOOK: The Palomino Pony Runs Free
10.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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